The functionalist theory was proposed by Durkheim. He was the founder of the functionalist theory. This theory focuses on the needs of society and the ways in which education helps in fulfilling them. According to functionalist theory, education serves as the process of transferring knowledge, skills and moral values to the upcoming generation. The moral values and social mobilization of people enable the development of a society where people come closer and work homogenously without discrimination of class and creed to attain their goals.
The functionalist theory focuses on the purpose of education to support core values and transfer of social control. In US, the social values focused in education are those which strengthen political and economic system. These two systems originally fueled the system of education. Hence, it develops an echoed system between education and politico-economic environment. The functionalist theory, moreover, focuses on developing communication, competition and individualism of the students. Thus, according to functional theory, all individuals in the higher education system are struggling to maintain equilibrium.
Stratification in functionalist theory is derived from common values. It suggest that individuals in the society must be evaluated based on common values, and then placed on different ranks. This practice is necessary to assure that the most qualified and skilled individuals hold best positions in the society. As a result of stratification based on common values, all individuals perform roles in accordance with their qualification. Functionalist theory shows that on the basis of stratification, people can uplift their social status if the work harder and acquire knowledge.
The Conflict Theory
Conflict theory is derived from the ideas of Karl Marx. Marx suggests that the society is continually undergoing social mobilization due to class conflict, which makes the society a dynamic setup. According to conflict theory, the society is indulged in competition over resources such as economic stability, money, status and leisure; while the competition in functionalist theory was based on merit and attainment of knowledge and skills. As functional theory, conflict theory believes in sorting of individuals. However, the difference lies within the concept of sorting. Functionalist theory suggests that sorting of students is based on merit and skills. While conflict theory suggests that the sorting practiced in educational institutions is based merely aligned with ethnic and economic lines (Atkinson, 2014). This practice is termed as hidden curriculum in the conflict theory.
The stratification system explained by functional theory is rejected by conflict theory. Conflict theory shows that the stratification system allows placement of rich at the top positions while dulling the poor. Poor do not get sufficient chance to compete and make their position in the society. Conflict theory suggests that the stratification system instead of offering fair placement of individuals, it is a fixed game in which rich remains rich and poor remains poor (Rubin, 2014). Conflict theory is based upon the idea that the education system hidey works on the worker class to make them realize what they will always remain in the lower class.